What If I Refuse to Forgive?

Only God Forgives?

Yesterday we talked about The Justice of Forgiveness. At the end of that article I ended with a cliffhanger question, “What if you refuse to forgive someone?”

I think it is a very valid question because I hear Christians who tell me that they would refuse to forgive someone who killed their spouse, molested their child, raped their daughter, or permanently disfigured/handicapped their child.

When faced with situations like this where the hurt can be overwhelming and the pain so deep, offering forgiveness can feel impossible. I have personally heard people say, ‘Jesus may forgive them but I’m not. They’ll have to get forgiveness from God because they sure aren’t getting it from me!’

How can we forgive someone who has done such a horrible thing? And what happens if we refuse to forgive?

What Happens If We Refuse?

Refusing forgiveness is a bigger problem than I think most of us want to admit. Why? Because according to Jesus refusing forgiveness does more than just lead to bitterness, it prevents the Father from forgiving us. For example Jesus says,

“For if you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. If you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.” – Matthew 6:14-15

(See more passages like this in Luke 6:37, Matthew 18:35, Mark 11:25-26)

What does this mean? Can we lose our salvation if we refuse to forgive somebody? How is our forgiveness toward others tied to the Father’s forgiveness?

To understand this let’s look at the parable of The Unforgiving Servant.

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant at Scots’ Church, Melbourne

The Unforgiving Servant

In Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus teaches His disciples about forgiveness. To illustrate what the Gospel teaches us about forgiveness, Jesus tells them a parable. He talks about a king who wants to “settle accounts with his slaves.” One of his servants owes him 10,000 bags of gold (a LOT of money). When confronted, the slave begs for forgiveness and time to pay back this massive debt. The king relents and mercifully forgives the entire debt instead of selling the man, his wife, and his children into slavery, along with all his possessions.

“Then the master of that slave had compassion, released him, and forgave him the loan.” – v. 27

Quibbling Among Debtors

What happens next seems shocking, but we do it today, all the time.

After being forgiven this massive debt, the servant goes out and finds a fellow slave who owes him $300 dollars. He grabs the man, chokes him, and threatens to throw him in jail if he doesn’t pay up. The second slave begs and pleads just as the first slave did, but the first slave refuses to forgive him and throws him into prison.

When the king finds out about this he is livid!

How could this slave who owed him a huge sum of money quibble with another slave over 300 bucks? Especially after the king had just forgiven him that massive debt? Who does he think he is?

“…his master said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’” 

… in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” – Matthew 18:34-35

When was the last time you heard this in church? That if you refuse to forgive others, then your heavenly Father will not forgive you either.

originalThe Gospel = Unmerited Forgiveness

The Gospel in a nutshell is that God has forgiven us for an incalculable debt and given us something that we could never earn. When we repent and turn toward Christ, we accept this forgiveness. When we trust in His atoning death and life-giving resurrection we are justified by and before a Holy God.

If you refuse to forgive someone, you are refusing to offer them that which God has already offered.

That person you don’t want to forgive . . . God loved them enough to send His Son to die for them. He died so that they might be forgiven for everything evil thing that they have ever done. Jesus gave His life to purchase the very thing that you would refuse to give them!

But They Don’t Deserve It!

Let’s face it . . . our flesh wants the people who hurt us to suffer! We want them to be mocked and humiliated! We want them to suffer as they made us suffer. They took away the things that are most precious to us and they must suffer.

But Jesus has already suffered and died for their crimes against you (1 Peter 3:18)! He was mocked, humiliated, and He suffered incredibly for that very person whom you don’t want to forgive (Isaiah 53:5). He did all this to offer them forgiveness for that one specific sin that you want to hold against them.

When you refuse to offer forgiveness to someone you are putting yourself in the place of Christ. You are placing yourself on the throne of judgement. You proclaim yourself the arbiter; who decides whether they are worthy of grace.

You are declaring that the blood of Christ is not sufficient to atone for their sin(s).

How much more disrespectful and selfish can you get? How ungrateful of a servant must you be to receive free unconditional forgiveness from Christ, only to turn around and refuse to offer it to a fellow servant? Either you have lost sight of the riches of His grace or you have never been forgiven . . .

Forgiven People Forgive

Forgiveness, then is the Gospel. It could not be more important or central to salvation. If you want to accept the forgiveness of Christ for your sins, then you must offer forgiveness to others for their sins. As Christ forgave you, forgive others.

Have you been forgiven? Then forgive.

Join us tomorrow as we look at how to practice forgiveness. How can families practice forgiveness, especially parents and their children? What role is there in parenting for forgiveness and grace?

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